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  • On December 12, 1904, Chief Lontulu laid 110 twigs

  • in front of a foreign commission.

  • Every twig represented a person in his village who died

  • because of King Leopold's horrific regime in the Congo

  • all in the name of rubber.

  • Chief Lontulu separated the twigs into four piles:

  • tribal nobles, men, women, and children

  • then proceeded to name the dead of one-by-one.

  • His testimony joined hundreds of others to help bring an end

  • to one of the greatest atrocities in history.

  • Beginning in the late 1800s,

  • European countries participated in the so-calledScramble for Africa.”

  • They colonized 90% of the continent,

  • exploiting African resources and enriching their countries.

  • Belgium had recently become an independent kingdom.

  • Its ruler, Leopold II, wanted to acquire what he called

  • “a slice of this magnificent African cake.”

  • Meanwhile, he read colonial explorer Henry Morton Stanley's reports

  • about traveling through Africa.

  • Stanley emphasized the Congo basin's majesty.

  • So, in 1879, Leopold contracted him to return to the Congo.

  • There, Stanley deceived leaders into signing some 450 treaties

  • allowing for land use.

  • Leopold persuaded the US and European powers to grant him ownership

  • of the Congo,

  • pledging to protect free trade in the region.

  • And on May 29, 1885, a territory more than 80 times the size of Belgium

  • and home to 20 million people was declared his own private colony

  • by no one it actually belonged to.

  • Leopold lost no time consolidating power in what he called the Congo Free State.

  • He claimed land, raised an army,

  • and forced many Congolese men to complete unpaid labor.

  • Things got even worse when, in 1887,

  • a Scottish inventor redeveloped the pneumatic tire,

  • creating a massive international market for rubber.

  • The Congo had one of the world's largest supplies.

  • Leopold seized the opportunity,

  • requiring villages to meet ever-greater rubber quotas.

  • Congolese men had to harvest the material from wild vines.

  • As supplies drained, they walked for days to gather enough.

  • Leopold's army entered villages and held women and children hostage

  • until the impossible quota was met.

  • Soldiers sexually violated women and deprived children of food and water.

  • Congolese people rebelled

  • they refused to cooperate, fought Leopold's soldiers,

  • hid in the forests, and destroyed rubber vines.

  • Leopold's army responded to resistance or failure to meet quotas

  • with unflinching torture and executions.

  • Because guns and ammunition were expensive,

  • officers ordered soldiers to prove they used their bullets in the line of duty

  • by removing a hand from anyone they killed.

  • However, many soldiers hunted using their guns.

  • To avoid harsh penalties and account for lost bullets,

  • they cut off living people's hands.

  • They also used this practice as punishment.

  • If rubber quotas weren't meant,

  • soldiers would sever people's hands and bring them to their commanders

  • instead of rubber.

  • The regime dramatically upended daily life and agriculture,

  • causing widespread starvation and disease.

  • Meanwhile, King Leopold built monuments and private estates

  • with the wealth he extracted.

  • Soon, people brought international attention to the horrific abuses

  • of Leopold's Congo Free State.

  • In 1890, American journalist George Washington Williams

  • accused King Leopold ofdeceit, fraud, robberies, arson,

  • murder, slave-raiding, and [a] general policy of cruelty.”

  • In 1903, Diplomat Roger Casement wrote a report that corroborated

  • the nature and scale of the atrocities.

  • It was published the following year.

  • In response, Leopold appointed his own commission to investigate the accusations.

  • They heard numerous witness statements in the CongoChief Lontulu's included.

  • The report only confirmed the worst.

  • Facing pressure, Leopold relinquished control of the Congo

  • to the Belgian government in 1908.

  • But this did not mean justice.

  • The Belgian state awarded Leopold 50 million francs

  • in testimony for his great sacrifice in favor of the Congo.”

  • He died the following year.

  • Crowds booed his funeral procession.

  • For more than 50 years following, the Congo remained a Belgian colony,

  • until declaring independence in 1960.

  • That year, the Congo elected its first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba.

  • But months later, he was unseated in a US and Belgium backed coup.

  • In early 1961, Lumumba was assassinated under Belgian supervision.

  • The coup launched the country into a decades-long dictatorship.

  • Around 10 million Congolese people are thought to have died

  • during Leopold's occupation and looting of the Congo.

  • Despite this devastation, calls for reparations have gone unanswered.

  • To this day, throughout Belgium can be found the monuments King Leopold built

  • on a foundation of inconceivable cruelty.

On December 12, 1904, Chief Lontulu laid 110 twigs

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History's deadliest king - by Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja

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    OolongCha posted on 2021/07/09
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